Saturday, October 6, 2007

Bush Defends Harsh Interrogation Methods

Bush declared on Friday that "This government does not torture people," but later talked about a program he created. "I have put this program in place for a reason, and that is to better protect the American people. And when we find somebody who may have information regarding a potential attack on America, you bet we're going to detain them, and you bet we're going to question them - because the American people expect us to find out information - actionable intelligence so we can help protect them. That's our job."

Also, the appropriate members of Congress have received the memos from the White House and have approved of the techniques, stating that they were “tough, safe, necessary and lawful.” The controversy on whether the White House had the authority to do something like this is necessary and just. Party members from both sides are “furious at the say the administration has kept them out of the loop,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Caltrans dumped roadkill near county reservoir

California Department of Transportation officials admitted Friday that state crews have created yet another makeshift animal cemetery near a source of public drinking water -- this time in San Mateo County.

Earlier this week, news broke that Caltrans had used a ravine in Santa Clara County as a roadkill dumping ground, threatening a nearby creek with potentially harmful bacteria.

Continue reading the rest of the article >
I found a similar article on the front page of the San Mateo County times. It just seems very irresponsible for Caltrans to do something like this. How would you deal with roadkills and where would you propose burying them?

Friday, October 5, 2007

In Honor of the SAT

If you are like me, in about 10 hours you will be taking the SAT. On the topic of testing and math and reading comprehension and those tedious fill-in-the-blanks, here's an article on testing. I've copied and pasted an opinion article from the series "All Things Considered" on NPR. Maybe it's not our fault if we get the scores we get...

U.S. Test Results Show Growth in Math, Not Reading

by Claudio Sanchez

All Things Considered, September 25, 2007 · The Education Department's highly anticipated national test scores for 4th- and 8th-graders show modest improvements in math, but flat scores in reading. Many educators have said the 2007 results would, for the first time, show whether No Child Left Behind is having an impact.

The tests show that since 2005, U.S. students have made slight gains in math, and even smaller gains in reading — just one point for 8th-graders.

The results are seemingly little to cheer about for supporters of the law that has pumped billions of extra dollars into the nation's schools since President Bush signed it five years ago.

Under No Child Left Behind, from 2002-2007, reading scores for all groups, except Asian-American students, have remained flat. And although the poorest readers appear to be doing slightly better overall, there's been no significant change in the percentage of students reading at or above grade level.

Only three states — Florida, Hawaii and Maryland — and the District of Columbia registered meaningful gains in reading in both 8th and 4th grades. Thirty states showed no change in either grade.

In a conference call with reporters, U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings put her own spin on the small gains since 2005.

"Obviously we're pleased with the results," Spellings said. "We have work to do, no doubt about it, but it's a very affirming day for the standards and accountability movement."

Spellings also seemed impressed with the modest decrease in the gap between white and black students in reading, a gap that continues to hover at about 30 points.

(I'd just like to point out that her last name is Spellings)

And Better News: Here is an article about trashing the SAT as well as another one from the New York Times...after those long hours it may feel good to read it. Do you think that the SAT is a good test to take and should be offered as people apply to college? Why or why not?

Blackwater's Legislative Effects

After the Blackwater incident the State Department wanted to take better control of such companies and sent people to Iraq to monitor the guards. In addition, on account of all the private contractors in Iraq, the House of Representatives passed a bill to bring the contractors under the penalties of American Law. The F.B.I. would be able to investigate the companies and the companies may be susceptible to criminal charges. The bill was approved by a whopping 389 to 39, although the White house strongly opposed the bill. The New York Times wrote that the White House states that such a bill would "overburden the F.B.I. and the Defense Department and interfere with crucial 'national security activities and operations.'"
The State Department has been investigating the Blackwater shooting, although it is probable that they will not have the authority to file charges on past occurences. The State Deparetment has not raised any charges on this despite Iraqi officials' concern.

There are both pros and cons to bringing more F.B.I agents to Iraq for investigation and are discussed here. Do you believe that it is worth it to send in more agents to Iraq?

USDA Beef Recall Delay

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) waited 18 days on a recall that contained 21.7 million pounds of tained ground beef, the second largest beef recall in US history. The USDA justified their delay, stating that they needed to conduct more sophisticated tests, such as the Pulsed Field Gel Electrophoresis that takes seven days to conduct, to confirm the conmintation. The tainted meat, frozen patties, were first acknowledged as so on Sept. 7 with a E. coli bacteria, but was not recalled until Sept. 25.

According the USDA, its policy states that it does not seek a recall until a second confirmation has been made. Should USDA change its policies?

California Water Bond

The California legislature is looking to fix the California's water system; the Department of Water Resources' director stated that the water system is not as reliable as it sued to be. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta worsening (with pollution causing deteriorating water quality and invasive species changing the food chain) and a low snowfall year in the Sierra left many reservoirs well below normal levels. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called a special legislative session last month, pushing for a long-term solution to this problem, and has proposed a $9 billion bond that includes money for reservoirs (three of them) building and expansion to be placed on the Feb. 5 presidential primary ballot.

Republicans and Democrats are split between the issues. While Republicans encourages building of new dams and reservoirs, Democrats and environmental groups favor preservation and the storage of water underground.

Who would pay for these projects? No one wants to pay for it. Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman (Republican) said the state should pay no more than 20 percent to 30 percent; Democrats stated that the state has never contributed more than 3 percent to these constructions before.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Blackwater USA

Here's a political cartoon:
Blackwater USA is a private contractor of troops. Those personnels stationed in Iraq often "shoot often, report little." According to US officials from the defense department, the contractors are reluctant to report any arms discharges.

Memos Authorizing Torture

The Justice Department authorized in 2005 two secret memos, that may have originated from Bush, in which "harsh" interrogation techniques for terrorism detainees, reported the New York Times. The first memo supposedly authorized torturing starting in 2005, and the second memo justifies the techniques. The White House refuses to give the Congress the secret memos.

Such authorized techniques includes the following: keeping people in cold cells sometimes without clothes, standing for many hours in a stress position, physical roughness (slapping and shaking), barrages of loud music to deprive prisoner of sleep, and water boarding (strap prisons on the board and put cloth on faces and pour water on them) to give an impression of drowning, reported Scott Shane, one of the reporters from the New York Times.

I found this picture of water boarding:

Press Secretary, Dana Perino, reported that Bush has not and will not support torture. She stated, "I am not going to comment on any specific, alleged techniques. It is not appropriate for me to do so, and to do so would provide the enemy with more information for how to train against these techniques."

Here are some links:
> NPR: Memos Reportedly Authorized Harsh Interrogation PODCAST
> NPR: White House Denies Authorizing Torture PODCAST
> NPR: White House Reacts to Interrogation Claims PODCAST
> Debate rages over secret Justice memo on torture

Healthcare Cartoon

So I was looking up more about the healthcare bill and came across this cartoon. Enjoy.

To answer Brian, this political cartoon came from the Onion, so it is most likely a satire of the Republican's view on healthcare. Notice that the government is telling the "well-adjusted" kid that he needs to acquire health insurance on his own--something not possible unless you want child labor. In addition, a father would not say that the absence of a health insurance check "worked great," unless the crazy father supports child labor.

Derek said that "the government shouldn't completely hand out free healthcare." And why not? I realize it is a costly issue, but is there a problem with the American government "handing out" the right to a life of health? Although there are problems with nationalized health care, I do think that European countries with universal healthcare may be up to something...and honestly do we need to deprive children, no matter if their income is 40,000 OR 60,000 to make a point that people need to appreciate their healthcare?
I believe that the pursuit of HEALTH is something that's in our constitution and something that should be our RIGHT not our privilege.

And finally, I 100% agree with the cartoonist's satire. It is an absolutely ridiculous notion that children can be "spoiled" with such rights as to be able to go to the hospital. If so I hope that one day all children may be "spoiled."

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

American Flag Above Other Flags?

I heard this story on the news, but I can't to find it on-line. But from what I can recall...

An army veteran, using an army knife, cut down a Mexican flag that was flying above an American flag in front of a store. He stormed off with the American flag and left the Mexican flag hanging. He claimed that no other flags shall be placed above the American flag. The store owner stated that he did not know such a rule and said that he was only trying to support his Mexican customers. It is illegal to fly any other flag above the American flag.

A similar incident happened on March 26, 2006 at Montebello High School in California as a protest against immigration reform. A student flew a Mexican flag above an upside down American flag; he was reportedly punished for this act.

Clinton posted the link to the story in the comments.

And I found a youtube video.

From Korea to Iran: Nuclear Facilities

When North Korea met with South Korea, Japan, Russia, China, and the United States concerning its nuclear facility, North Korea made an agreement to disable nuclear reactors by the new year. In addition, NPR claims that North and South Korea have come to a "common ground" at their summit.

For the NPR report, click here

I feel that important progress has been made from both meetings, but would like to focus on the disabling of nuclear facilities. After seeing what has happened with North Korea, I wonder if the same diplomacy could change the nuclear progress in Iran. Although Iran has not said that they have made any nuclear weapons and North Korea has tested their own nuclear weapons, I still believe that there is a parallel. If one is possible do you believe that another is? Do you believe that we should confront Iran through diplomacy about their nuclear facilities? Do you believe that it is necessary? And if so, should we intervene by other means?

Although I am not sure what is the best way to intervene, I do feel that America should, and I believe that the agreement made in North Korea today shows hope for a peaceful and diplomatic approach to address such a situation.

Bush Makes an "Unhealthy" Decision

Today, President Bush vetoed the bipartisan bill H.R. 976, a bill that would expand a program for Healthcare for families with financial difficulties by $35 billion. The program, the State Children's Health Insurance Program, seeks to provide aid in health insurance to families who have too high an income to qualify for Medicaid, yet still cannot provide health insurance for their children. This program was created in 1997 and since has covered health insurance for millions of children. Such a proposal would add 4 million people to the 6.6 million people program already instated.

In an MSNBC article, President Bush claimed that "Members of Congress are risking health coverage for poor children purely to make a political point." He reasons that the measure costs too much to put into action and will require higher taxes for families that can supposedly already afford health insurance. In the article, Bush says, "Our goal should be to move children who have no health insurance to private coverage -- not to move children who already have private health insurance to government coverage."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as well as many others have spoken out against President Bush in his decision and are determined to override the veto. This morning, Congress was unable to override the veto.

For more info on Bush's reason on the veto and background information click here
For an interview about the bill's current situation click here

So what do you think? Is Bush terrible for vetoing a bill to help children with their health insurance? Or, is he justified in his actions?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Fatal Airport Security

In Phoenix Arizona today a 45 year old woman by the name of Carol Anne Gotbaum died in an airport holding room. In a CBS article, the family's lawyer says that Gotbaum was "on her way to an alcohol rehabilitation program in Tuscon" when she arrived late for a flight. She was not allowed to board the plane and after what police Sgt. Andy Hill calls "outrageous behavior," Gotbaum was arrested, handcuffed, and taken to a holding room. As she was taken to the holding room it was reported that she repeatedly shouted, "I am not a terrorist!" There here hands were shackled to a table behind her back in handcuffs, and later when checking on Gotbaum, officers found her unconscious.

The family is considering whether or not to sue the Phoenix police, but currently Hill says as quoted in the article "Everything, so far that we know, is according to policy."

To find out more here is the link to the article:
Also if you click on the little TV on the left there is an interview with Hill himself!

So where do you think the line is between such police interference and protecting the rights of the individuals. Should Gotbaum have just been left alone to wait in the airport? Was it necessary to take her into a holding room? I do not exactly know what happened in relation to the actual death of Gotbaum, but I do feel some kind of proof must be brought to the table before anyone else should be blamed for her death. Also, there is to consider the "obscene behavior" Gotbaum apparently displayed. What would be enough of an obscenity to take someone, arrest them, and keep them with their hands behind their back in a holding room?

Hillary Clinton's Cackle

Hillary Clinton's laugh is now call by many as a cackle, alluding to the laughter of the witches, especially that of the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz.

Here's a news segment:

Does her laugh reveal something deeper, i.e. stress as the some have proposed? I personally think that it's great to laugh; it lightens the mood a bit, but then other people might be offended by it.

The Hype Report

I was watching the Glenn Beck Program yesterday, and this came up. Is it related to politics and economics? Maybe.

The Hype Report is a "'scientific survey' of the world's most overrated people, things, and places." Er, check it out.

Here's the first six. Why the first six? 'Cause of seven.

1. Posh and Becks
2. Cupcakes
3. The miracle of Botox
4. Brad Pitt
5. Sexual predators
6. Oprah's heart

Continue reading the rest of the list>>

Alternative to Pesticides

Plants that can kill other plants studied as alternatives for pesticides

It’s long been known that some plants are biologically capable of eliminating other plants. Now that is spurring their development as a low-maintenance, chemical-free option for weed control.

Scores of commercially available ground covers, grasses and ornamentals have shown an aptitude for overwhelming weeds. That includes the ability to outgrow or smother them, or secrete weed-suppressing compounds.

Continue reading the rest of the article>>
This article by the Associated Press shines light on this study to use plants as natural pesticides rather than chemicals that may damage the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently denied the use of a new pesticide, methyl iodide, also called iodomethane, fumigant. This new pesticide was proposed to replace the previous fumigant, which was banned by international treaty because of its harmful effects. Although the pesticide does not harm the crop, its fumes from the soil deplete the Earth's ozone layers and harm nearby inhabitants.

California classifies the fumigant as a carcinogen, and regulators have expressed concern about its safety as an agricultural product. Studies also show chronic exposure can harm the central nervous system, lungs, skin and kidneys. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation is conducting its own review of methyl idodide and would not likely rule on its use in the state for at least a year regardless of EPA's ultimate decision, said spokesman Glenn Brank.


GOP Problems

The GOP is in a quagmire.

Rudy Giuliani, leading in the nation polls of the Republican presidential candidate, has the greatest potential of all other Republican nominees to run against presumed Democratic presidential candidate Hilliary Clinton. But unlike typical Republicans, Giuliani supports abortion and gay rights. He was the mayor of New York City and, in the 1970s, was a Democrat and an Independent.

Some prominent social conservatives, including the religious right, have threatened to leave the Republican party and consider nominating a third-party nominee as its presidential candidate if the Republican party chooses a pro-abortion candidate (clearly pointing to Giuliani). These social conservatives feel betrayed by the Republican party; they do not truly support or prefer one Republican nominee over another, but Giuliani causes the most fear. Though, many view the potential problem with splitting off might benefit the Democratic party; it would cost millions more to finance another candidate and Republicans votes would be split. Even with all these discretions, these social conservatives would not affirm to voting for the "lesser of two evils."

Monday, October 1, 2007

Some More Protests: Saving the Trees

In response to Wilson's post about Nurse's strikes, I do believe that strikes are an important part of American society. Strikes send a direct and distinct message to companies and involve the opinions of the public as well. Although in this case I am not sure that nurses' strike is beneficial for patients for the next few days, I do believe that a better treatment of the nurses may lead to better treatment of patients in the long run. In addition, such a strike is very effective for the nurse's as the patients may also put pressure on a large hospital to increase benefits so that individuals may get the personal care that they need.

Although I have shared my opinion, I do read this strike and wonder when such public statements are appropriate and necessary:

At UC Berkelely, the university has granted an injunction from the Alameda County judge to evict the tree sitters protesting since the UC regents vote to build facilities next to the football stadium where the trees are located. It has been 304 days since the protesters have lived in the trees. In a KTVU article, Zachary Running Wolf, a tree protester affirms that the sitters "won't let some judge force us out on the 304th day."

Superior Court Judge Rickard Keller has made a ruling only for one protester, David Galloway due to the university's inability to find the protesters and "track down and serve notice of its lawsuit."

In a short amount of time, the ruling may also apply to all tree protesters, the consequences being fines and five days in jail. Some say that such a protest is a danger to the school campus, others just find the situation silly.

To read more, go here:

After just reading the headlines about disasters in Darfur and Myanmar and discrimination in Jena, I must admit I did not take this article as seriously. I mean people are dying and being discriminated against and there are many very important issues going on in cities such as Berkeley involving poverty and crime. Why is saving a few trees so important?

One may argue that a protest for something so specific may in fact come to be more rewarding. Whereas we may write countless letters to government officials about Darfur and attend many protests, we individually may not have as great as an impact on the outcome of the government's actions on the issue. In this situation, as long as the students remain in the tree, they are actively making an apparent difference, not to mention causing a lot of trouble.

So the question: Is it worth it?

Korea meeting Korea

For only the second time since the Korean War, the leaders of North Korea and South Korea have planned a summit in Pongyang, North Korea. President Roh Moo-Hyun of South Korea appeared in the Korean capital welcomed by a cheering crowd after his lengthy 3 1/2 hour drive from state capital to state capital.

In his travel, Roh stopped in a demilitarized zone between the two countries and walked across it, making history as the first leader to cross the border by foot. Stepping across the plastic tape labeled "peace and prosperity," Roh commented that he hoped that the "line will gradually be erased and the wall will fall." Roh's ideas suggest that such a summit may work towards a long-lasting peaceful solution and eventually the recombining of North and South Korea.

Meanwhile, Kim Jong Il has not been portrayed as having the same goals towards peace. Quoting the article from BBC, Kim Jong Il had previously promised that he would "make the return journey to Seoul" after Korea's first summit, but "that has never happened." Even so, after the previous meeting between Kim Jong Il and former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung led to a reconnection of the railroad systems between countries and families "have been granted reunions, if only briefly." Progress has been made, but a correspondent from BBC argues that Kim Jong Il "prefers to keep his military threat to coax further economic aid and other concessions from the nervous South." In addition, a CNN report asserts that in the 2000 summit "Kim Dae-jung paid hundreds of millions of dollars to secure the meeting." Some predict that such advancements and peace agreements may only be made with a financial deal to help North Korea's economy.

Even so, this second summit has some serious issues on the table regarding the relationship between the Koreas, addressing possible negotiation about freeing Koreah prisoners of war, military tensions, sea borders, and economic issues.

What do you think about such a meeting? I think that it's kind of peculiar that such a meeting took so long to be organized. I realize that there are serious issues between the countries, but the railroads have been connected for years and the distance between the capitols is only 3.5 hours. Even so, I am happy that such an event is taking place and hope that this may lead to agreements between the countries. In addition, this meeting also coincides with another meeting regarding the denuclearisation of North Korea. I sincerely hope that progress may be made in that area as well.

Here are the links to the articles for more information:

Rush Limbaugh's "Phony Soldiers"

Controversy is brewing as top Democrat officials, such as John Kerry, presidential hopeful John Edwards, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, blasted Limbaugh over a recent comment he made on his show when a caller dialed in to discuss the Iraq war. Limbaugh seems to have remarked that some soldiers, and soldiers in general, are "phony soldiers," especially those who come back and oppose the war. Limbaugh continued, after that call, to talk about the soldier, Jesse Macbeth, who was recently convict of lying about his service in the military. Reid said, "Just as patriotism is the exclusive realm of neither party, taking a stand against those who spew hate and impugn the integrity of our troops is a job that belongs to all of us." Responding to the attack today, Limbaugh said that he was only referring to one soldier, Macbeth.

Here is the clip of Rush Limbaugh's Dittocam from his website,, defending himself against such acquisitions; I found this on youtube though.

Here's a short transcribed section of the call that started it all. It plays around 3:10 in the youtube video above (5:05 if it counts down).

Limbaugh: It's not possible, intellectually, to follow these people.
Caller: No, it's not. And what's really funny is that they never talked to real soldiers. They like to pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and talk to the media. ...
Limbaugh: The phony soldiers.
Caller: ... The phony soldiers. If you talk to a real soldier, ... they understand their sacrifice, and they're willing to sacrifice for their country.
Most television shows that rebroadcasted the call, it seems, cut off the call right after Limbaugh said the phrase "phony soldiers." I think that maybe the Democrats should not have blew this matter up so much. Looking at the whole conversation, it seems like reporters left out a significant later chunks of the call and that swung the context of his comment towards a more negative side.

Was this a smear tactic? And if so, did it work? Did the Democrats do the right thing by blasting Limbaugh? Reid also said that he "can't help but wonder how [his] Republican colleagues would have reacted if the tables were turned -- if a well-known Democratic radio personality had used the same insulting line of attack against troops who support the war." Would the Republicans have reacted much the same way?

Nurses Strike on Oct. 10 & 11

The California Nurse Association (CNA) on Friday, September 28, gave a 10 days warning, stating that nurses from around Northern California, and mainly in the Bay Area, are planning to strike for two days, scheduled on October 10 and 11. The strikes may be called off if there are substantial progress before Oct. 10, if not, the strikes could potentially get longer and messier. Around 5,000 to 5,500 nurses will be on strike from the 16 hospitals of the Sutter Health chain in the Bay Area, the Children's Hospital & Research Center Oakland, and the Fremont-Rideout Health Group in Yuba City and Marysville. Approximately 500 nurses at Millls-Peinsula Medical Center plan to strike on those days.

Their concerns include safe patient care practices, retirement security, proposed reductions in their health care benefits, the ratio of hospital staffs to patients, and plans to reduce patient services in San Francisco, San Leandro, and Santa Rosa. Nurses accuse Sutter of caring more about profits than about patients.

The nurses ignored the voting of the new contract, which proposed a 25 percent wage increase over three years (another source says 21.5 percent over four years), a 15 percent pay hike the first year, no-premium health care for nurses and their families, and increases in the nurses' retirement health care accounts according to The Daily Journal. Sacramental Business Journal states that the proposal also included enhanced funding for nurses' education and training and a "team bonus" of up to $2,100 per nurse if the contract had been signed before Sept. 30. Rather than talking on the proposal to Shutter Health directly, the CNA is negotiating with each hospital.

Strikes are becoming more and more common nowadays, with this and sanitary works against Waste Management in Alameda County awhile ago... Do you have any opinions on strikes? Do you suppose the nurses in this case? What are the pros and cons?

I personally do not really see the point for strikes. Sure they bring the message that the strikers are important and that their concerns should be addressed, but what would happen to all the people who count on these strikers do that day, or those days. In this case, it seems that it is a disadvantage for nurses to strike. What would all the patients do without them? What would you do if you were a nurse? How would your respond if you were the hospital owner?

Mattel Recall

Here is an interesting satirical article from The Onion on the recall of Mattel's products that were made in China. This is old news, but no one else bothered to post about it.
Chinese Authorities Execute 10 Million Recalled Toys

BEIJING—In an attempt to assure the world's children that the millions of Chinese-made toys currently being recalled for containing toxic lead paint and tiny choking hazards can no longer hurt them, high-level Chinese officials announced Tuesday that millions of playthings are being rounded up and immediately put to death.

"We are committed to the well-being of children and putting the consumer's mind at ease," said Chinese president Hu Jintao at a press conference. "Boys and girls of the world, you need not worry. Your toys will be executed swiftly and harshly. When we are through, there will be nothing left to play with."

Continue reading the rest of the article >>

Sunday, September 30, 2007

U.S. Science Education

In a way, this is a follow up on the previous post.

It has been 50 years since the launch of Sputnik (Oct. 4, 1957), the Russian satellite and the first satellite to orbit earth on its geocentric orbit. The presence of the satellite in the sky, which seemed to Americans as a defeat, did not only push the US to compete more vigorously in its space race against then communist Russia but also perpetuated science education in the US. The US government, in the National Defense Education Act of 1958, contributed federal funds of more than one billion dollars to schools public and private to promote science and mathematics mainly. And at that time, the science and math fields expanded and improved greatly.

The problem nowadays is that many Americans feel that the US is losing its edge in technological breakthroughs to countries such as Korea, and Italy.

What do you propose that the US do in order to revive its science education and science research fields? Should the US just flood the schools with money again?

Technology and War

This does not have much to do with current politics and economics, maybe, but I thought that it would be an interesting topic to discuss. This actually came as an offshoot from Ellie's "War Games" post, and I commented:
Most technological advances happen during times of war.
Allen Tao responded with:
when you say technological advances, do you mean it in a good or bad way? I don't really see how something like a nuclear bomb could help us.
And an anonymous poster said:
"In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed — they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock." -The Third Man
What do you think? Does most technological advances happen during times of war?